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Prodi Resigns

DW staff (nda)January 24, 2008

Italy was again thrown into political turmoil as Prime Minister Romano Prodi decided to leave office after he lost a crucial vote of confidence in the Italian Senate. The opposition is calling for new elections.

Romano Prodi
Prodi gambled his political future on a confidence vote in the Senate. He lost bothImage: AP

Italy's embattled Prime Minister Romano Prodi tendered his resignation after losing a vote of confidence in the Senate on Thursday, Jan. 24, by five votes.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano who, according to news reports, "reserved the right" on whether to accept Prodi's resignation, convened the speakers of both houses of Parliament for consultations Friday.

The result was 156 for the center-left government, 161 against and one abstention. Three senators were absent, including two non-elected life senators.

Napolitano must choose between calling early elections and setting up a transitional government to allow electoral reforms, which many deputies say are badly needed, to be enacted.

Prodi, the center-left leader who won elections in April 2006 by a handful of votes, went before the Senate despite appeals by top leaders including Napolitano to resign rather than face the vote.

He appeared resigned to the prospect of losing the vote but determined to carry through with it on principle.

"I am here because you cannot hide from the judgment of those who represent the people, and our people are watching us," he said.

Prodi has walked a tightrope trying to keep together his squabbling coalition, which ranges from centrist Catholics to far-left communists.

Earlier plea falls on Senate's deaf ears

Dismissing calls for his resignation, Prodi earlier urged senators to support his government.

"Italy does not have the luxury of halting (the work of) this government," Prodi said in the Senate as he opened the scheduled debate preceding the vote.

To those voting against him, Prodi said they should ask what government and what parliamentary majority they wanted in place of "the legitimate one currently in office."

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano
President Napolitano wanted Prodi to step aside ahead of the voteImage: AP

Earlier Prodi met Napolitano -- who like others in the governing center-left coalition reportedly wanted the premier to make way for a caretaker government -- before the senate vote.

The embattled prime minister had already met Napolitano before winning Wednesday's confidence vote in parliament's lower house Chamber of Deputies where, unlike the Senate, the government has a clear majority.

Recent defections have left the governing centre-left coalition with some 157 votes in the Senate, while the opposition is expected to muster around 160 votes.

"We will have early elections," University and Research Minister Fabio Mussi said Thursday, voicing a view shared by some members of Prodi's eight-party coalition and the vast majority of the opposition including former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

However the Democratic Party, the largest in the center-left government had said that if Prodi were to fall, then electoral reforms -- aimed at giving governments more stability by decreasing the influence of small parties -- should be introduced before a new poll.

Napolitano, who has the power to dissolve parliament had also said in the past that a new electoral law would be needed before elections are held.

Mastella's withdrawal of support prompts crisis

Prodi's decision to test his support in parliament came after former justice minister Clemente Mastella said Monday his small moderate UDEUR party would no longer support the governing coalition. Mastella resigned last week in the wake of a corruption scandal.

Italy's center-left coalition Democrats Union for Europe (Udeur) leader Clemente Mastella
Mastella decided to pull his party out of Prodi's coalitionImage: AP

His decision triggered the latest, and most serious crisis to strike Prodi since he took office 20 months ago after winning Italy's closest post-World War II election by just 25,000 votes in April 2006. Prodi has had to rely on more than 30 confidence votes to push through legislation, including the government's budget and foreign policy.

In the wake of Prodi's resignation, Berlusconi called for the president to dissolve parliament and call elections immediately.

Berlusconi also had to face four votes of confidence during his government's turn in office. Berlusconi was the longest serving Prime Minister Italy has had since World War II. Italy has had 61 governments since 1945.

Impact on economy

In the run-up to Prodi's decision, political commentators and analysts were warning that holding elections now without amending Italy's messy electoral rules would only prolong the unstable system of coalition governments.

Reuters news agency reported that the current government turmoil took its toll on financial markets where spreads between Italian government bonds and German bunds widened to near levels not seen for six-and-a-half years.

European Union Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Joaquin Almunia
Alumnia urged Italy to confront its political problemsImage: AP

Italy's economy, which has long underperformed its peers in the euro zone, also suffered more bad news with the worst consumer confidence data for two-and-a-half years.

EU Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Joaquin Almunia urged Italy to resolve the situation as soon as possible because "only then can Italy begin to confront its real problems, like the economy."

Speaking to reporters outside the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Almunia reiterated: "We are currently in a time of economic difficulty and turbulence. All countries need strong governments and the support of all parties within the parliaments, not just the majority but also the opposition."